Three months after its initial outbreak, the World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

As past pandemics have shown us, fear and erratic behaviours increase among the global population when an outbreak occurs. Today, we also have to deal with the bombardment of information on social media, the confusion as to what is fact and what is fiction, and everyone’s advice and comments (well-meaning and otherwise). This can have a significant impact on a person’s physical, emotional, and mental health, ultimately affecting all aspects of their personal and professional lives by manifesting itself in anxiety in all that we do. Further, pandemics can have devastating effects on the global economy. Already, some industries have taken massive hits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, from tumbling stocks to employee layoffs.

As an organization, there are steps you can take to alleviate fears your employees may have, in addition to preventative measures that can stop the spread of COVID-19. Here are my recommendations during this time of uncertainty:

  1. Provide flexible working conditions

If the structure of your organization allows for it, provide your employees the opportunity to work from home. In doing so, you may allay any anxiety your employees have regarding public, shared spaces. Studies have shown that working from home can actually increase employee productivity. Additionally, now that schools and daycares have announced closures due to COVID-19, you can provide peace of mind for employees who have children.

During this time, I urge you to provide a lenient sickness absence policy. While many organizations require employees to retrieve a doctor’s note for sickness-related absences, consider putting this policy on pause for the time being. By requiring your employees to go to a medical clinic to retrieve a note to excuse their absence, you are potentially exposing them to more damaging viruses and bacteria, or contributing to the spread of their illness. As such, this could even prolong their absence from work. It’s important to encourage your employees to stay home if they are sick.

  1. The practice of good hygiene at work and at home

If it’s not possible for your employees to work from home, ensure you are providing a clean, sanitized working environment for them. Remember to encourage the use of personal hand sanitizer, and actively promote consistent hand-washing throughout your organization. Your organization should replenish soaps and sanitizers regularly to accommodate this. For shared spaces, it may be beneficial to hire a cleaning company that can perform a deep sanitary clean on a frequent basis. I encourage you to read this document from the World Health Organization created specifically for preparing your workplace during this COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. Have open, honest communication

When a pandemic occurs, it’s easy for misinformation to spread, especially when it’s so readily available without much fact-checking. As we’ve experienced firsthand, social media can be a big factor in increasing anxiety due to widespread misinformation. During this time, it’s important to remind your employees to access their information regarding COVID-19 from legitimate sources such as the World Health Organization.

If you hear concerns from your employees about COVID-19, maintain a stream of open communication with them. If your organization is implementing a new preventative measure, share it with your employees in a timely manner via employee communication channels. For larger organizations, consider hosting a phone conference for all employees to join in, and address any concerns they may have. 

  1. Be a good corporate citizen

We all have a social responsibility to lead by example and help stop the insidious virus tide that has killed thousands around the globe and is now firmly in Canada. Implementing these measures along with self-monitoring, good hygiene, staying away from large groups of people, and self-isolation, will save lives. Reinforce this with your employees; after all, we are social beings, the preservation of the human species should be important to all of us. These measures, according to our health experts, are tangible means that as individuals, will make a difference in “flattening the curve”.

While this situation might seem overwhelming for all of us, it’s important to validate the concerns of all employees. If your employees are experiencing anxiety as a result of this pandemic, share this document with them, or encourage them to speak with their Employee Assistance Provider (EAP) who can connect them with a professional counsellor to further address their concerns. As always, Aspiria is here to guide you along the way.